Vote against the judicial election swamp builders | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Vote against the judicial election swamp builders

Posted By on Sat, May 19, 2018 at 8:40 AM

click to enlarge FIGHT SEWER MONEY: Re-elect Judge Bart Virden.
  • FIGHT SEWER MONEY: Re-elect Judge Bart Virden.

The voluntary group monitoring judicial election advertising has called on a Republican dark money group to stop running ads attacking Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden because they are "false and misleading."

The Republican State Leadership Committee won't stop the advertising.  Virden's opponent, Republican Johnnie Copeland, has tacitly endorsed the ads by failing to repudiate them, their corrupt message or their use of her own image, leaving an appearance of coordination between Copeland and the sewer money.

This one is simple. If you oppose sleazy dark money advertising, the remedy is to vote AGAINST the candidate the dirty tactic seeks to help. Vote FOR Virden, who has a fine record on the Court of Appeals, and AGAINST Copeland, yet another cutout in the Republican effort to take over the nominally non-partisan Arkansas bench to help corporate and GOP agendas.

The formula also applies, of course, in the race for Arkansas Supreme Court, where dark money forces including this same Republican attack group have invested $1.5 million in defeating Justice Courtney Goodson and electing another Republican cutout, the unqualified David Sterling. It is a puny response to $1.5 million, but voters have it in their power to just say no to the sewer money and vote AGAINST Sterling. Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson is also a candidate.

As we reported yesterday, Goodson was handed split decisions by judges hearing her effort to block the TV advertising against her by the Judicial Crisis Network as false and defamatory. Judge Chris Piazza blocked ads on Pulaski County broadcast outlets. Judge Mackie Pierce allowed them to air in Northwest Arkansas. Both called the ads deceptive, which is certainly true. Some media have voluntarily pulled them. But the 1st Amendment allows broad interpretation of facts in the course of free speech. Regrettably, I think Pierce's decision was correct that the advertising should be allowed, odious as it is.

There is a partial solution, if not currently available. If Citizens United doesn't allow limits on electioneering in judicial races — though some believe judicial races are a special case — there is no doubt that the Arkansas legislature has the ability to require full financial disclosure on the spending. The Republican legislature refuses to do so while sewer money pours into campaigns for Republican-leaning candidates. This tells you everything you need to know about what kind of impartiality you can expect from the candidates they favor. Note that, despite some restrictions on TV ads, nothing will stop sewer money ads from flooding into your mailbox.

For the record, here's the report from the ad hoc volunteer judicial election watch group on why the ads attacking Bart Virden are so sliimy. It's full release:

Judicial watch group finds campaign materials false, misleading

The Rapid Response Team, a nonpartisan group that monitors appellate court elections in Arkansas has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Republican State Leadership Committee because of what the team contends are false and misleading statements in television commercials attacking Bart Virden of Morrilton, a state Court of Appeals judge seeking re-election.

The team, created in 2016 by the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct & Election Committee Inc., took action after a complaint from the Virden campaign organization, conducting an investigation into allegations made in the commercial, paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which was paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network., which lists its address as 1201 F. St. NW, Suite 675, Washington, D.C.,

Virden, a former deputy prosecuting attorney, city attorney and District Court judge, was elected to fill an unexpired term in 2014 in District 2 and is seeking a full 8-year term in Tuesday’s nonpartisan election. He is opposed by Johnnie Copeland of Mountain Home.

In its investigation the Rapid Response Team found that the RSLC was sponsoring TV commercials stating that “Virden overturned the conviction of a habitual rapist on a technicality leaving victims without justice.”

The commercial apparently referred to an opinion issued by the Court of Appeals in 2017, Rogers v State. Six judges heard the case; four voted to remand and reverse, while two dissented. Judge Virden voted with the majority and was assigned to write the opinion.

The Rogers opinion concerned the admissibility of evidence to impeach a witness, not a technicality, the RRT said.

Edward D. Rogers has been imprisoned in the Arkansas Department of Correction since June 2016 and is not scheduled for release until May 2044, according to ADC records.

In a letter sent to the RSLC on Thursday the team asked the organization to withdraw the advertising voluntarily. On Friday the organization declined in a letter signed by Matthew S. Raymer, a Washington lawyer who is vice president and general counsel for the RSLC.

Raymer refuted results of the Rapid Response Team’s investigation and concluded that the “First Amendment does not shield elected judges from criticism, and voters have every right to hold elected judges accountable for their decisions.”

Raymer also raised questions about the Rapid Response Team’s impartiality and accused its members of “shameless partisan attempts to shield candidates like Bart Virden from having to answer for their records.” He listed some political contributions of team members made prior to joining the committee.

The Rapid Response Team is comprised of retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans, attorneys Danyelle Walker and Elizabeth Andreoli, all of Little Rock; Dr. Hal Bass, professor emeritus of political science at Ouachita Baptist University; and journalist Roy Ockert of Jonesboro.

“Rather than correcting its false claims, the Republican State Leadership Committee chose to attack the members of the Rapid Response Team,” said Judge Evans. “We are all volunteering our time, and the team responds only to specific complaints filed by judicial candidates. Then we follow our rules of procedure closely before we reach a decision.”

She said the same organization also questioned the integrity of the Rapid Response Team members in 2016 when a cease-and-desist letter was issued because of false advertising placed against the campaign of Clark Mason in a state Supreme Court race.

“This is, after all, a nonpartisan election, but the Republican State Leadership, which hides behind a mask of anonymity, insists on trying to make it partisan,” she said. “Worse, its advertising distorts the facts.”

After the RSLC response, a cease-and-desist letter was immediately issued.

UPDATE: The Republican group disputes the label "dark money" because it makes some disclosure reports of contributors periodically. I don't believe there are specific delineations of support related to this race. But I've asked for details of such spending. The on-line reporting while revealing expenditures, doesn't reveal specific sources of contributions to the initiative by the Leadership Committee. Meanwhile, their comment:

I fail to see how the RSLC is a “dark money” group when we file multiple disclosures every year with the IRS and in the state of Arkansas. I think you are conflating us with another group, please do not. Suggest you change your untruthful copy.

David James

Communications Director

Republican State Leadership Committee

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